By Mary Erickson Associate Editor
Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum has entered a new phase of executive leadership, joining two positions of artistic director and managing director into a co-leadership structure. Courtney Sheehan will serve as artistic director, and Line Sandsmark will assume the managing director position; they have been serving in these positions in an interim capacity since July 2015. Both will jointly report to the Board of Directors.
For a smaller-sized organization like the NWFF, this structure makes sense. A single executive director position often gets overwhelmed with the different hats they’re expected to wear, and there’s a need for a large team in order to delegate duties. In the NWFF’s case, according to Sandsmark, the support structure isn’t big enough to adequately support an executive director. Having two positions jointly cover the leadership role is more efficient and, as Sandsmark notes, “improves cross-departmental collaboration” within the organization. “We feel this is a natural evolution to serve in these positions,” says Sheehan. “This allows us to be nimble, flexible and adaptable.”
The NWFF aims to broaden its involvement and resources for its community, both geographically in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and for the wider cinema-going audience. “We are continuing to look for ways to bring people together around film,” says Sheehan. In addition to regular film programming, the NWFF is also focusing more on larger scale live events and community conversations. It is also emphasizing accessibility to a broader audience, through the films themselves, through filmmaking tools, and through film education. “We are exploring how film can serve the community,” notes Sheehan. For example, for 10 days in January 2016, the NWFF hosted its annual Children’s Film Festival, screening films from all over the world. Part of the NWFF’s improved access and outreach involved bringing this festival to the Carco Theatre in Renton, Washington.
The NWFF is also providing opportunities to the community in the form of two production projects. Citizen Minutes is a community video initiative that presents conversations via short video. These shorts are presented both online and as weekly newsreels prior to screenings at the NWFF’s cinemas. The second project is Cue Northwest, a partnership with a local record label Brick Lane. The project will provide a $5,000 budget for a filmmaker in residence to produce a film inspired by an EP record. The inaugural round will screen the film at the NWFF’s Local Sightings Film Festival in the fall of 2016.
While the programming vision moves forward, so too does the vision for the facility itself. The NWFF has been at its current location in Capitol Hill for 11 years, and the space is in need of some updating to accommodate its current and future constituency. The NWFF has recently been awarded funding from 4Culture, the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, along with other funders, to enable renovation of the lobby and building façade. “We’ll be expanding the lobby to accommodate more activity,” says Sandsmark, “and we’ll be able to replace the temporary marquee that was installed in 2004.”
As the NWFF moves into its 21st year, the organization continually finds ways to thrive and make itself relevant. “We’re highlighting the idea of community and collective experience through film, education and artistic support,” says Sandsmark. She acknowledges that the road is tough for arts organizations, but she sees rejuvenated support from the community. Theater admissions were up 10 percent in 2015, and membership numbers hover around 1,000 members. The community-oriented focus of the NWFF echoes throughout its programming, events, education and even its leadership.
Learn more about the Northwest Film Forum at www.nwfilmforum.org.